A good actor is not considered a good actor based mainly on what they say or how they say it, but what they “don’t” say. The phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words” is so true. More can be said “better” sometimes by one look or simple muscle twitch than a whole sentence of dialogue. What does this have to do with the “Horizon Line” you might say? Well the point is that it’s the subtle things that make a powerful performance or a great shot.
I was watching a video on youtube with Jon Favreau, talking to steven spielberg, Brian Grazer, and Ron Howard. Steven was telling a story about when he was about 15 and had the opportunity to talk to “John Ford” about becoming a ” picture maker” as john put it. He went on to tell him that
“when you’re able to distinguish the art of the horizon at the bottom of the frame or at the top of the frame but not going right through the center of the frame. When you are able to appreciate why its at the top of the frame and why it’s at the bottom, you might make a pretty good picture maker…”!
This got me thinking, what is the rule of the horizon, I have to know what this key to movie making is!! So I went out and did some research and what I found turned out to be extremely simple, but when used right, can be very powerful in setting the mood of your shot/scene. I was expecting some grand rule or algorithm but it wasn’t and this is what im going to share with you today!
When you have a low horizon like the ones you see pictured here,
it helps separate your subject, no matter what it is, from the background. Gives a sense of nobility like it did in the painting of the Indian. At the same time it gives me the feeling that he’s the last of his kind and he’s making his last stand or something along those lines. In the image with trees, it gives a sense of isolation against an amazing sky behind. Contrasting the subject with the vastness of the sky creates a very emotional feeling in your shots. Know when to use it.
When using a high horizon like pictured below,
it creates a shot that show’s you just how far that horizon is from you. Filling the frame with land etc, makes you feel like it goes on forever. Creates a sense of “vastness” that is great for establishing shots like the New York city street below or for creating a feeling that puts the viewer into the desired mood.
One placement that you have to be careful with is the horizon going right through the middle.
“Dividing a composition in half by placing the horizon across the middle of the frame is often considered breaking a sacrosanct design rule, but it isn’t quite as serious as cheating on your income taxes. Try it. If it works—as it sometimes does in catching mirror reflections in pond or lake scenes—use it without shame.”
Basically its a very neutral kind of shot that can at times , depending on how it’s used, be distracting in a way.
I hope these few examples and explanations gave you a good idea of what the different horizon placements mean and what they can do for your shot. I don’t claim to be a professional in this area but I am willing to share what I do know and hopefully we can grow and learn together.
One thing i’de like to point out in closing is that if you’re not sure which one to use, sometimes it’s best to not even show the horizon. Because if used improperly, it can have an effect on the viewer that you didn’t want. So again, I hope this helps. I’de love to hear feedback from you guys.
God bless and I wish you the best in your work.
Note: I do not claim to have the rights to these images!